Introducing…Sara Wilkins McAllister
Degrees: BA, majoring in both International and Area Studies (with a concentration in Global Health and the Environment) and Latin American Studies, minoring in Spanish, 2010. MA in Teaching and Curriculum Studies from the University of Southern California in 2012.
Current work: Middle and high school ESL teacher at The American School of Kinshasa (TASOK) in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo
Hobbies: golf and documentary making (I am currently working on a video to spotlight an organization called Stand Proud that helps individuals with Polio and other disabilities receive proper care and treatment.)
The UNC Experience
Why did you choose to attend UNC?
My mother raised me a Tarheel fan my entire life, but I fell in love with the school during a campus tour after hearing about all the research happening on campus and all the study abroad opportunities for students.
What surprised you as a student there?
As a Carolina student, I was quite surprised that despite the large size of the school and student body, there was a true sense of community present on campus. Joining clubs and organizations on campus helped expand my Carolina community as well. At UNC, I was part of a sorority, participated in Dance Marathon, and took APPLES service learning classes to learn about the world while helping the community and working with others.
What groups and activities particularly inspired you?
Volunteering with Carolina Navigators and Girls on the Run in the greater Triangle community were two of my favorite experiences that have really inspired me to pursue my current work in the DRC—teaching and working with students to improve their lives and their understanding of the world.
What about teachers and classes at UNC?
I started out a Biology major on my way to becoming a physician. This all changed, however, after taking several general education classes like a first-year seminar on World Religions taught by L. Leve, followed by PSYC 101 taught by Dr. R. Lawson, and an Anthropology course on Moral Philosophy with Dr. Smith. The summer after freshman year I was invited to travel abroad on the Southeast Asia Summer Immersion program to Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand and along with these course experiences, the program helped me discover a love and passion for Public Health and Education.
Why did you choose to be a Global Studies major? How has Global Studies shaped your professional and personal trajectory?
I changed my major in my sophomore year and began trying to become more connected to our globalized world. I loved my majors at UNC and had phenomenal professors including Arturo Escobar, Louis Perez, and Jonathan Weiler.
Being a Global (International) Studies major allowed me to take classes focused on issues and areas of the world that I found interesting. I was encouraged through this major to study abroad, which is one of the reasons I find myself living overseas and appreciating new cultures and languages. This major really did prepare me for many opportunities all around the world.
How and why did you decide to take your current position?
After graduating from UNC I moved and taught English, Social Studies, and Ecology at a bilingual school in the Dominican Republic. A teacher there connected me with my current job in Kinshasa. I was offered a job to teach ESL to both middle and high school students and I took it without any hesitations.
What is the most difficult part of your current job? What is the most rewarding part of your current job?
The Congo is widely considered to be a very difficult and expensive place to live; this is true, but I think everything the school and this country have to offer makes living here worth all of the challenges. As an ESL teacher, it is hard to ensure everyone is learning adequately at their own level and pace within a classroom. The extra time I put into my job planning lessons is well worth it to see my students progress so quickly at a new language.
How does your work contribute to your larger goals?
My work here as a teacher is helping me further develop my knowledge of school systems, typical classroom settings, and other school issues that I hope will serve me in the future as I may decide to pursue a doctorate in education and work in school administration. But no matter what I choose to do in the future, I know this experience is worthwhile and serves as a great stepping stone for whatever comes next.
I ended up marrying a guy who was also an International Studies Major with me! His name is Andrew McAllister and we had three INTS classes together before finally dating. We were married in October 2011. His Masters in Public Health is helping him connect with other UNC and USAID people here in Kinshasa to work on health issues affecting the DRC. He also teaches a few classes at TASOK.